TEXARKANA, Ark. – A woman who said evangelist Tony Alamo "married" her when she was 8 years old told federal jurors Thursday that he sexually assaulted her repeatedly until she dodged security cameras and roving guards to escape from his compound in 2006.
Her testimony came after another former underage bride of Alamo said she "married" the pastor at 14 through hurried whispers during visiting hours at a federal prison. That woman later noted inside a Bible the date Alamo first forced her to have sex, but left the name blank out of fear Alamo would beat her.
Alamo, 74, is named in a 10-count indictment alleging he took young girls across state lines for sex. His lawyers said the girls were moved so they could do legitimate work for the ministry, and claim the government has targeted him. He has pleaded not guilty and could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyers largely left the sex and underage marriage claims unchallenged, though they questioned witnesses' memories and whether they had been coached by authorities. Several jurors appeared affected by the testimony, wiping at their red eyes. One man slowly shook his head "no" during particularly graphic testimony.
The 8-year-old bride, now 18, said Alamo groped her after their wedding and began having sex with her when she was a 9-year-old third-grader.
He also took explicit photographs of her that year with an instant camera and, upon looking at them, called her a "whore." She said she didn't understand, but Alamo told her it was a good thing.
The teenage witness — who described herself as a third-generation Alamo follower — said that at one point she asked the minister why he had selected her.
"He said, `Because you were cute,"' she said on the witness stand. "It wasn't God's will that he married me. It's just because he thought I was cute."
She described two trips to Oklahoma to her parents' home that ended when Alamo summoned her back to his Arkansas compound for sex. Those trips are mentioned in the indictment.
The woman told jurors she did some filing early on, but that she wasn't allowed to answer the phone.
"I was too young," she said.
She also told jurors she had never seen Alamo preach. His various wives, she said, would take down dictation for his tracts.
The woman left the compound in 2006 — after another wife who began questioning Alamo planted the idea — and arranged to meet someone for a ride at the Dollar General discount store in Fouke. She said she dodged cameras and guards while leaving and later entered counseling at a center that caters to former cult members.
A Florida woman who testified against Alamo on Wednesday said she was "married" to him at age 15 and raised objections to Alamo taking an 8-year-old as a bride.
Earlier Thursday, jurors heard from a woman, now 25, who said Alamo fondled her after they exchanged vows at a federal prison in Texarkana, Texas, where he was serving time for tax evasion. A closed-circuit television system and guards apparently failed to catch him, as Alamo's other wives attended and served as lookouts.
"We would lean in really close to each other so the camera wouldn't see," she said, crying.
Prosecutors showed jurors a page from the woman's Bible that read "Holy Matrimony" and noted the date they first had sex, July 17, 1998 — 11 days after Alamo, then 63, left federal prison for a halfway house.
The woman said her mother was an Alamo follower who, at Alamo's direction, sent her to his compound in southwestern Arkansas after she fell into trouble at home. Her offense: revealing that her brother liked another girl in the ministry. The woman said she traveled with Alamo to Las Vegas and Los Angeles in 2000, when she was 16, and had sex with him during the trip. She also traveled with him to Nashville, Tenn.
A woman from Texas, now 33, told jurors that the minister made light of taking a young girl on the road as a wife and sex partner.
"It was a joke in the house that she was underage," she said. "It was flaunting that he could get away with this."
The Texas woman said Alamo ran her husband out of the church and took her as another of his brides. She told jurors that, while sexually assaulting her the night of their marriage, Alamo screamed out: "The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is against you, Satan." She was 17 then, Alamo was 59.
She said she didn't contact authorities for years because Alamo had taught his followers that the government justice system was evil.
"This was the courtroom of Satan and we were in the courtroom of God" with Alamo, she told jurors.
Under cross-examination, she acknowledged returning to Alamo's compound after he evicted her husband but said she did so because she was afraid God would punish her if she didn't do as Alamo said.
"I lived in fear of hellfire and I believed that God could strike me dead," said the woman, who was born into the church her parents joined as teenage runaways. She said she was not taken across state lines for sex until after reaching age 18.
The Associated Press generally does not identify those who say they were victims of sex crimes.
If convicted, Alamo faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the 10 counts against him. He is being held without bond.